Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Game Preview: Oakland at Oral Roberts

Game 17: Oakland (8-8, 3-0) at Oral Roberts (5-9, 2-1)
Thursday, December 30, 2010 | 8:00pm
Watch: | Radio: WDFN (1130 AM)

After dispatching Centenary on Tuesday night, Oakland heads north from Louisiana to Oklahoma to take on conference rival Oral Roberts. Oakland is off to a 3-0 start in The Summit League, albeit against the three teams that finished in the bottom three positions last season, while Oral Roberts has solid road wins over IUPUI and WIU to its name. However, the Golden Eagles dropped their first conference home game on Tuesday to an improved IPFW team, the first time ORU had ever lost to IPFW at the Mabee Center. Oakland knows what that feels like as it picked up its first win in ten years there last season. The Golden Grizzlies will look to build on last season's victory in Tulsa with a strong outing this year against a team with a lot of talent. Oral Roberts will aim to find some consistency in an effort to take down the reigning champs.

A Non-Conference Flip-Flop
While Oakland fans were likely frustrated with the last few non-conference games, most would probably agree that it was largely a successful November and December when compared to last season. Oakland kept games close against some of the best teams in the country and picked up a few wins over solid mid-major teams. While wins against Wright State and Valparaiso would have capped off a great non-conference slate, the upset of Tennessee on national television did bring a lot of exposure to the program. Oral Roberts enthusiasts are probably feeling a bit like Oakland fans felt last year. They dropped a few games to mid-majors that they should probably be beating and were never very close in their games against BCS schools sans an 86-82 loss at Texas Tech. Last season, it was ORU that broke through with three big upsets (New Mexico, Stanford, and Missouri) and Oakland which floundered in such big-time games. While the non-conference stories have flipped, there is no doubt that both teams will be gunning for that conference championship this season. Oakland and Oral Roberts found out their weaknesses during the first two months of the season, and conference play will determine whether or not they can learn from their non-conference schedules in games against conference teams that are not quite as battle-tested.

A Story Of Inconsistency
As outlined above, ORU has had a fairly inconsistent season thus far, mostly consisting of non-conference games where the opponents vary quite a bit. In checking in on the Golden Eagle statistical profile, though, there are not many glaring weaknesses. The team is fairly average across the board, ranking somewhere between 125 and 250 in most categories across all teams in Division I. These figures pair well with Coach Scott Sutton's assessment of his team after the IPFW loss as "very, very average," despite the fact that at times the team has shown flashes of greatness. By taking a look at the team's shooting percentage in each game this year, we can see how the team has gotten to that average position:
In every loss, the Golden Eagles have failed to shoot better than 50% from the field except for the game at Texas Tech (which they nearly won). After starting the season with three straight losses, the team bounced back with two straight wins, including one on the road at Utah, and then went on to win its first two conference games. Following a last-second win at IUPUI, we can see that ORU really struggled with its shooting against some elite conference teams, none more than at Missouri. However, it's not just the opposing team's defense. This is a team that shot 57% against UALR in November and then 32% against the same team a month later. ORU can be a dangerous team when everyone is clicking at the same time, but as this year has shown, that has only happened so often. ORU does not have a single four-year player this season and is young at most positions, so perhaps this shouldn't come as such a surprise. However, the Golden Eagles are clearly one of the more individually talented teams in The Summit League, and at this point they're just desperate for some consistency.

Key Personnel Match-Up
Larry Wright vs. Warren Niles
Heading into this game, we're pretty much resigned to the fact that Dominique Morrison is going to get his numbers. He's a versatile forward who presents match-up problems for Oakland given his size and ability in the open-court and is bound to score 20+ points while chipping in with his fair share of rebounds and assists. With that said, the guy that we're most worried about then is sophomore Warren Niles. Niles has struggled to find consistency this season but is capable of scoring boatloads of points when his stroke is smooth. If both he and Morrison are getting to the basket with frequency and knocking down a few triples, it could be a long night in Tulsa for the Golden Grizzlies. The OU defense hasn't been particularly strong in the last few games (it gave up 71 points to a Centenary squad that averages 54 points a game - the difference of which was mostly earned at the charity stripe), so if this ends up being an offensive juggernaut, it will be important for Larry Wright to continue to be strong from the field. Since the Michigan State game, Wright has been an offensive weapon for the Golden Grizzlies, particularly from beyond the arc (18 of 33 in that stretch).

Oral Roberts Player To Watch: Steven Roundtree
Steve Roundtree is an easy player to spot: he's a wiry, athletic forward who stands at 6-foot-8 with a hairdo that might add two inches to his frame. But after getting a good look at that crazy 'do, Roundtree will impress with his game. He's just a freshman this season, yet he has started every game for Coach Sutton and is averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 boards per game on 50% shooting. For a team that has lacked consistency, it has been getting a lot of it from one of its youngest players. Roundtree is very skinny but has proven adequate as a post-player against similar-level competition and can also stretch the defense with his ball-handling and ability in isolation. He pairs nicely with sophomore big Damen Bell-Holter in the paint, giving the Golden Eagles a frontcourt that should be great over the next three seasons as both players age and refine their games. Against IPFW on Tuesday, Rountree displayed many of his talents, captured in a quick highlight video we put together below.

Obviously a lot of Roundtree's damage was done against smaller defenders (poor Peckinpaugh!), so he'll get one of his first big tests of the season against either Keith Benson or Will Hudson. Whatever the case, Roundtree has still proven himself to be one of the best newcomers to the conference.

Oakland Player To Watch: Will Hudson
Similarly to Morrison, we think Keith Benson will get his and more or less cancel out the scoring output of Morrison. Oakland's most consistent player, Will Hudson, will play a big role then in the outcome of this game. Hudson has proven effective as a defender all season and will need to utilize that determination to intimidate the young ORU frontline. This is a guy who played solidly against Illinois' Mike Davis and Michigan State's Draymond Green, so hopefully he can continue to do so against Roundtree and Bell-Holter. Once again, if this game ends up being a shoot-out, Hudson's offensive boarding and ability to get open when the double-team comes for Kito will be of increased importance.

Oakland and Oral Roberts have quite a bit of history with each other over the last decade. They have played down to the wire both in regular season and conference tournament games, though ORU has been the more dominant team in home games. From 1/20/2000 to 1/07/2010, ORU beat Oakland every time the Golden Grizzlies traveled to the Mabee Center. However, last season Coach Kampe and company finally broke through with a 67-60 win. Oakland also won the game at the O'Rena on a last-second shot by Johnathon Jones. No matter what happens, one can always be sure that this series will be entertaining.

Player Points
As we learn more about the various teams in The Summit League, we hope to offer a few bullet points about most of the contributors for the highlighted opponent (when an opponent blog is not available for a Q&A). Since we've watched a bit of Oral Roberts this year, here's what we have seen from our black and gold lenses (Morrison, Roundtree, and Niles covered above):
  • Damen Bell-Holter has started every game this season, his sophomore campaign. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, DBH can be a force downlow. Two of his three double-doubles came against BCS opponents (Texas Tech and Missouri), and he has found himself going to the charity stripe more and more as the season has progressed (9 attempts against Rice and 10 against IPFW). We haven't seen enough of Bell-Holter to have a clear view of his defensive ability, but there has been no shortage of opposing big men getting up for matches against Keith Benson (hello, Jordan Morgan!).
  • Heading into the season, one of the questions regarding this team was how the point guard position would be handled. Early on, it looked like Rod Pearson would be the man after sitting out last season with an injury. Pearson is the team's best assist man in the backcourt and found himself starting for much of the first few games but has struggled to find playing time lately.
  • Hunter McClintock, the redshirt freshman, also sat out last season due to injury with Pearson. McClintock got his chance to start for a nice stretch but has thus far failed to be a steady distributor (1.5 assists per game, 0.67 assist-to-turnover ratio). McClintock has a lot of ability but in watching him those skills seems very raw yet. The young buck can go off, as his 19 point performance against Texas Tech would indicate, but he has yet to hit double figures in any other game.
  • Ken Holdman was one of ORU's main options at point guard last season and has recently found himself back in the starting line-up. He's the kind of guy where you know what he will bring you. He only seems to take shots when they are appropriate, grabs a few rebounds, and capably leads the offense. He has started the last three games for Coach Sutton, so barring another line-up change, look for Holdman to be out there against Oakland.
  • Tim Morton is a 6-foot-9 sophomore who mostly comes in to back-up Bell-Holter. DBH plays a lot of minutes, so Morton doesn't get a lot of time and it has been decreasing with each game. Morton reminds me a bit of the way Oakland fans looked at Ilija last season: come in to give the starters a brief respite, don't commit any turnovers, and limit fouls. Perhaps Morton will play a bigger role in the future, but so far this year he's mostly been playing that reserve role.
  • Kyron Stokes has been hampered with lingering concussion symptoms and Michael Craion may redshirt due to a foot injury. Stokes gives the Golden Eagles some depth at the 2/3 spot while Craion is a proven banger who can rebound with anyone in the league despite standing just 6-foot-5. No word as of this post if either player will be available against Oakland.
The Extra Pass
Leave it to Coach Sutton to find more guys for his team with dreadlocks! Oakland fans probably remember well one Robert Jarvis, a small point guard who had a thick set of dreadlocks. Just as he was leaving the school, Dominique Morrison joined up with his budding dreads. Two years later, DoMo's are approaching Jarvis-like length while newbie Steven Roundtree continues the trend with his unique hairstyle. At this rate, ORU might be able to honor an entire All-Hair Team at a half-time ceremony in the future.
As always, if you're interested in getting in on the conversation with other Oakland fans before, during, and after the game, we highly suggest checking out the Golden Grizzly Hoops forum: Game Thread.

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